Tag Archives: Titanic

Titanic Musings: The Day After The Great Bird Feast

Another year, another Thanksgiving. This year some retailers decided to open to get early shoppers in. They hope to cash in on the pre-Black Friday crush that is often the case. Out here in the San Francisco Bay Area, a cold blast from the north has sent temps down to freezing in some places. It is cold enough that produce growers have to work covering plants to prevent frost from ruining the citrus crop. Many though decided to brave the very cold temperatures to camp outside of stores that open early in Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). People were camped outside the local Target store for two days so that when it opened at 4 a.m. this morning, they would be one of the first inside.

Of course the local media was excited. They rolled out with their vans and cameras to show people at home the spectacle of grown men and women choosing to sleep outside a store to be the first inside when it opens. Stores are not displeased hoping the attention will bolster sales. Some even handed out store maps so that shoppers will know exactly where to go when the doors open. Sometimes it does get out of hand. A jerk tries to sneak ahead causing tensions and even a minor altercation. Or worse, someone brandishes a weapon threatening anyone who gets in their way.

Turkey is the center of a Thanksgiving feast. Long ago these flightless birds roamed around in flocks and had to be hunted. Now you just go to the grocery store and decide fresh or frozen. Or organic and free range. Heritage turkeys are being bred and available either online or through speciality retail stores. Those birds cost more and can be less fatty than their cousins in the store. When I was a kid, most people roasted their birds using butter, herbs and other seasonings. Getting a moist bird was an art but today brining has become the preferred method. This presoaking allows the turkey to retain moisture as it cooks allowing for a moist and tender bird.

Another fad is frying the whole turkey. This is popular in the south but requires lots of preparation and care. It requires a large container full of hot oil (usually peanut or vegetable). You cannot do this indoors, on a balcony or fire escape. Too many people have tried it resulting in fire departments coming out to put out fires. You must do this outdoors and away from any structure. And never ever think of putting a frozen bird into the hot oil! The results are explosive and life threatening. And you have to set up a system of lowering the bird in and out of the oil to avoid oil splattering out of the pot. Is it worth it? Many say yes but I have heard people complain kosher birds do not come out as well. Since you cannot brine a kosher bird (it already is salted) it may not be as tender as a bird brined before frying.

Mashed potatoes are a favorite. The trick is getting them light and fluffy. America’s Test Kitchen believes Yukon Gold potatoes are the best to use for this. After trying both Russets and Yukons, they are right on. For light and fluffy, put down the hand masher and either use a hand ricer or food mill. I use a food mill and the results are terrific. Warm not hot milk (you choose the type but half and half is decent but for out of this world use heavy cream) and melted unsalted butter are then added. For those practicing Kosher, warm turkey or chicken broth (or stock if you have it). Then lightly fold it all in and taste for seasoning (usually salt and pepper). I sometimes add a scallion and prepared horseradish for extra zing.

While enjoying the turkey feast with all the trimmings, I remarked how back in the days of Titanic this would at least a seven course meal. Perhaps even more depending on the restaurant and its clientele. You would have the appetizer, salad, several meats, breads and sauces, a palate cleanser, followed by fruits, cheeses and sweet desert items (with coffee or tea). You can only imagine the food nannies going crazy if this was done today. They would go ballistic with the fat, calories, and decadence of it all. I wonder sometimes if the food nannies were deprived as children since they often dislike so many popular foods! 🙂

One tradition after dinner, and usually with dessert, is watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Every year I watch this show and always enjoy it. We learn the meaning of Thanksgiving and also forgiveness as well. Charlie Brown has to come up with a quick Thanksgiving meal. Thanks to Linus, Snoopy, and that strange bird, they come up with one with toast, popcorn, and pretzels. Patty gets angry but later apologizes when she realizes she imposed on Charlie to come up with a meal. It all works out in the end since Charlie’s grandmother invites them all to her home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, the Christmas season is right around the corner. Already the music is in the air and decorations are going up. Children are getting excited in many parts of Europe. The feast of St. Nicholas is coming up (6 December) and he brings good kids presents heralding in the official start of Christmas season. Time to get the pans out and make Christmas favorites for the holidays. And prepare for some happy times ahead.

Titanic Cliche of the Day:Turning Titanic Takes Time

Justin Markman in an opinion piece for the Ventura County Reporter wrote:

What’s equally toxic is this Republican mass denial of the facts going on in this election season as the righties with their constant Obama-bashing refuse to concede that it takes time to turn the Titanic away from the rocks and hidden icebergs still floating just off the bow, and that it may take easily as long to correct as it took the Republicans and their corporate Wall Street and foreign corporate cartel overlords to get us into this Third World-like economic emergency.

This is a bad use of Titanic imagery. Titanic had little time to avoid colliding with the iceberg and in the end was unable to escape being damaged fatally by it. And saying it may take “easily as long to correct” is way off base unless you are arguing that like Titanic the iceberg is right ahead. As for his political opinion, that is up for you the reader to decide.

For poor use of Titanic imagery, Markman is awarded our never imitated Titanic Cliche of the Day Award complete with tacky iceberg martini glass.

Source: Ventura County Reporter, Turning The Titanic Takes Time, 28 Oct 2010

Titanic Comment of Day: Devo Like Titanic Band!

Devo!  A very long time ago (before the age of the Internet) my college roomate bought their record. Devo was edgy and new wave, perfect for the college student on a stuffy college campus. Today it has been reported that Devo, in addition to making their first album in 20 years, is also going to be part of Futurama’s 100th episode. According to Undercover, Devo will be campaigning for mutant rights. Gerald Casale offers up this gem:

“The world is in sync with Devo,” says his band-mate and co-writer Gerald Casale. “We’re not the guys who freak people out and scare them – we’re like the house band on the Titanic, entertaining everybody as we go down.”

As they sang it so well: Whip it, whip it good! 🙂

Undercover.com.au, Devo To Star In Futurama, 8 June 2010


Food For Thought, Top Chef Masters and other musings

An episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations reminded me of Titanic. Bourdain visited a New York restaurant where time stopped in the pre-War II era. Waiters deliver food on rolling carts and make final preparations at the table. The menu has long forgotten classics of another time and served only in high end restaurants somewhere in France, preferably one in a chateau. The food demands respect and you do not arrive for a meal wearing casual clothes or shirts only a crazed artist would love. The restaurant is about enjoying classic food that is elegant it its preparation and service. A meal not to be rushed but savored with friends much like it was on Titanic’s fateful voyage.

First class meals were served to remind of the best continental restaurants. The First Class Dining Salon and A La Carte restaurant were tailored to the upscale dining experiences its patrons were used to. Nothing was left to chance from the finest woods used for paneling and chairs to the carpets on the floor. Meals required a large staff to not only wait, serve, and to make all necessary preparation to be done for each meal and foods served between them. In 1912 just about everything was done by hand. There were no food processors, immersion blenders, microwaves, or mechanical choppers. It meant hours of chopping, slicing, shredding, and baking. Titanic sailed with a larder that was overflowing from essentials like sugar, fresh produce, to exotic meats and seafood. The first meal was at 7:00 a.m. for early risers in their rooms. Tea, coffee, fruit, scones and jams were likely available along with the ships newspaper, the Atlantic Daily Bulletin.  By then the bakers had been up probably since 2:00 a.m. baking bread. Others would arrive later to prep for the days meals. At 8:00 a.m., the bugle sounded breakfast.

Etiquette and decorum required that gentlemen and ladies attend meals properly dressed, even if it was for breakfast. It was unthinkable to come dressed in casual clothes. Today we do not bat an eye on cruise ships when at breakfast people show up wearing casual shirts, shorts or jogging pants, and sandals or flip-flops. Back then it would have been scandalous and likely got you turned away! And you would have gotten some stern comments from fellow passengers as well. You did not need to formal wear but you had to look the part of someone who took the time to attire and look proper in being upper class. This required, especially for upper class women, changing of clothes often to match what you would be doing. Men too had the same requirement of having formal, semi-formal, and casual wear. Which contributed to why the rich travelled with so much luggage. A 1912 upper-class family would have real difficulty today with all the assorted trunks of clothing needed while traveling.

Formal Edwardian breakfasts were large. King Edward VII (who died in 1910) was known for his big appetite. His breakfasts include fish, grilled meat, poached eggs and spit roasted chicken. First class diners sitting down to breakfast had a menu that offered light meals (fruit, stewed prunes, puffed rice, and Quaker oats). Then it followed the traditional large Edwardian style with fish, grilled meats, eggs made to order, cold meat, rolls, biscuits, jams with coffee or tea. Second class got much of the same. Third class had more simpler fare. There was always oatmeal (or Quaker oats), bread with jams, coffee or tea on the menu. Depending upon the day, it might have an egg dish, fish, stew, meat, or sausages on the menu as well.

Lunch was likely the same as well. We do not know what they ate in first class, since those menus did not survive, but we have a good idea what Lawrence Beesley likely ate. The sample menu shows they started out with a hot soup, roasted meat, followed by cold meats and salads, dessert, fresh fruit, and cheese. In third class the main meal was midday. It had soup, grilled or roasted meats or fish, vegetable, biscuits and bread, and a dessert. Tea time had grilled or roasted meats, fish, or even a rabbit pie. Cheeses, vegetables, fruits, fresh bread, and of course tea. The specimen menu in Last Dinner on the Titanic notes “Kosher Meat Supplied and Cooked for Jewish Passengers as desired.” It is safe to say food in second and third class was of a quality many never had at home.

Dinners were a  major event for first and second class passengers. The First Class Saloon and Al La Carte restaurant cooked elegant and sophisticated meals for those that expected the best. The A La Carte restaurant was even more high end than First Class Dining. It also allowed the diners to select what they wanted to eat. They likely had eight courses to choose from along with the optional, but usually obligatory, ninth course where dessert (fresh fruits and cheeses) was often served. First Class served an astounding eleven courses. Waiters would bring out the food on platters, offered something from every dish, and made wine suggestions. Thus you could take as much or as little as wanted to eat. It is a ritual out of fashion today. We cannot imagine sitting at a table for hours consuming such quantities of food. Yet many did during this period in history. In Last Dinner on the Titanic the authors advise to serve small portions and drinking only a small glass of wine with each course.

“In fact, we found such a meal an amazingly digestible sensory cornucopia. But plan to serve it on a night when you can sleep late the following morning.” (Archibold & McCauley, Last Dinner on the Titanic, p. 70)

Many of the dishes served on Titanic, in fact much of that high end food, went out of fashion though not forgotten. The Edwardian style of large meals has also gone away replaced by a four to six courses that usually includes appetizers, salad (or something similar), entrée, dessert, coffee or tea. High end eating, of course, has not faded away. Bourdain’s trip to a restaurant that celebrated classics of long ago reminds one you do not need to have Edwardian feasts to enjoy high end old style French cooking. You just need to find the place and respect the food.

Top Chef Masters
-A good show that lacks the interpersonal drama you get with regular Top Chef. The downside is that they are all accomplished chefs with many years in the kitchen. The means the competition is tougher because the standard is high.
-This explains why the judges are tough. They expect something extraordinary and explains why they sent Carmen home in the Wedding Wars episode. They know she is accomplished chef but all she produced was crab cakes and a corn salad. They expected more and she restrained herself (to her regret no doubt).
-It is amusing, at times, to move chefs out of their comfort zone. Sosur Lee had no idea what a tailgating party was. I guess up in Canada they have nothing similar for hockey, soccer, or baseball. He came close to making the mistake of a chef in Top Chef:Chicago who had no idea either. Sosur made a delicious meal but came dangerously close to following the mistake of the Top Chef cheftestant with the Austrian dumpling. Gale Greene was right to lightly tap him for it by telling him a tailgate is not the best place for culture. On the other hand Jonathan Waxman lost his inner Yoda and phoned in his contribution resulting in his near elimination. And we learned grilled pizza is good but you need to bring your A game to compete on this level.

One tip to Sosur: On your next trip to a Little Italy, do not make jokes about Italians, the Mafia, and the Sopranos. They will use you head for bocce ball. 🙂

Man vs. Food
-A lost Edwardian in search of a feast best describes Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food. Adam Richman travels around eating the largest portions of food he can find. He goes to a city, finds the places serving the largest portions, chows down, and then takes on a food challenge. The challenge usually is to eat a super-sized meal that many have tried but few have won. He sometimes wins but food often fights back hard to defeat him. Want to drink a gallon of milkshakes? Adam tried and ended up throwing up ending in food win. One wonders how his doctor feels about the high calories he is taking in!

Bizarre Foods
-Andrew Zimmern travels the world showing us the unusual foods that people eat. Sometimes it is not that exotic with suckling pig in Spain but goes there with bull testicles. Then it was cancelled and they tried something called Bizarre World. All it took for me to avoid the show was seeing Zimmern in body paint (head to toe) for some exotic ritual. Others must have had the same reaction and it did not last so they brought back the show, but with a real twist. Now Andrew travels away from the cities and into the country to see the foods that city people avoid for the most part. How about a dish of fried tarantulas (which sometimes explode in the pan) or raw intestines with poop still in them? Good luck Andrew.

Food Network
-I do not watch the Food Network much these days. I used to long ago but now it is more about entertaining then serious cooking. That does not mean there are not chefs there who try to teach good cooking, it is not just the emphasis anymore. Alton Brown is pretty good and Giada is not bad either. A lot of people dump on Rachael Ray (like Bourdain) for being successful. She does not teach cooking like they do over at America’s Test Kitchen (an excellent PBS show) but does make it accessible to a wide variety of people. I suppose the ding is that she really just shows how to throw things together rather than learning how to really cook. Success does breed contempt at times and this is an example of it.
-Chopped is not a bad show. A slimmed down Top Chef, it has it cheftestants compete for $10,000. To do this they must cook up meals for each segment (appetizers, entrée, and dessert) from a basket of items they cannot see until they open them up. If at the end of each segment a chef fails, then as quick as a guillotine chopping the watermelon, that person is gone. The last two left standing then are judged not only on dessert but everything they presented. And the judges are one tough lot. I am convinced they make them drink lemon juice because they never smile. When they are served food they do not like, they tell you right there. Ted Allen, who was a great guest judge on Top Chef, hosts.
-The Next Food Network Star. Here is a great idea: why not create a talent show to find the next Rachael Ray (or God helps us Bobby Flay)? So the goal here is not to find a top chef but a chef with great personality that people will watch. That distinction is crucial. The winner gets a contract for six shows. Only two have managed to generate ratings that get them renewed (which has to make one wonder how successful this program really is).

Hell’s Kitchen
-And here is the evil: Hell’s Kitchen. Hell’s Kitchen is aptly named since Gordon Ramsey and his cohorts treat the aspiring hires (the prize is a job either with Ramsey or other restaurant) pretty rough. And the people selected are not Top Chef or even Next Food Network Star material. These are the C and D list of cooks. And the punishments meted out to the losers of each round are sometimes childish, silly, stinky, or downright borderline harassment. Sometimes some promising chefs are found but mostly these sad sacks are likely put there by producers to get the desired effect. Which is to see how many times Gordon Ramsey will yell <deleted> at the chefs. Bonus points awarded when he takes plates or pans and throws them into the garbage.

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Titanic Grim: 1 in 89 Survivors Committed Suicide

Kathleen Minnix recently posted at Book of Odds a grim statistic on Titanic survivors –1 in 89 ended up taking their lives. Some of the more notable suicides are Dr. Washington Dodge, Jack Thayer, and Titanic lookout Frederick Fleet. Dodge shot himself over a lawsuit in 1919, Thayer slashed his wrists and throat in 1945 over a son’s death in World War 11. Frederick Fleet died in 1965 by hanging himself on a clothes line. His wife had died in December and his brother-in-law had evicted from the house.

The earliest suicide was in 1912.  Annie Robinson, who had been a stewardess on Titanic, was aboard the Devonian on 10 October. The ship encountered heavy fog in Boston and she became agitated. Shortly after the fog horn sounded, she threw herself into the water and drowned. The last survivor suicide was on 11 Jul 1989 by Phyllis May Quick. She shot herself in the head at her home in Detroit.

A grim statistic indeed.

Tacky Titanic: Flamed Iceberg Desert

Britain’s finest chef is under fire for a Titanic meal that includes a desert called flambĂ©ed iceberg (flamed iceberg). According to the Daily Echo, Heston Blumenthal will be serving up the ““greatest feast never eaten: the last meal on the Titanic.” That flaming iceberg bit has caused an uproar from Titanic enthusiasts and relatives of survivors and victims.

Titanic historian Brian Ticehurst described the flamed iceberg dessert as “tacky”, while Terry Yarwood, from the Tug Tender Calshot Trust, said it was “sick”. “I know Heston’s considered a great chef, but this seems to be in the worst taste possible. It’s quite appalling,” Mr Yarwood said.

Indeed. One giant thumbs down for Heston Blumenthal. In a word, stupid.

Titanic 2010

Titanic still draws people to her long after she sank in 1912. There are the usual memorials in Belfast, Southampton, Halifax and other places. Each year the U.S. Coast Guard flies over the area Titanic sank to drop a wreath. Other less noticed things occur as well. Titanic themed meals are in vogue. People dress up in period outfits, attend a dinner that approximates meals served aboard ship, and learn some Titanic lore from enthusiasts. Titanic documentaries are often shown around this time along with showings of A Night To Remember (1958), a fondly remembered movie based on Walter Lord’s book. The more recent Titanic is not history but does recreate the ship wonderfully along with rich period look and feel.?

Titanic is not unlike a Greek tragedy. Such tragedies always depict the outcome as avoidable. Not so far off in Titanic’s case. Her demise was avoidable and arguably predictable. Walter Lord summarizes it as complacency on all levels: government, the ship owners, and those commanded them. No one seemed overly concerned with the lack of lifeboats. Ship owners, for reasons of economy and aesthetics, did not want too many. They knew their presence comforted passengers. The Board of Trade considered passengers cargo and cargo equals space. So lifeboats were tagged to the amount of space one took, not on the total number of passengers and crew aboard ship. Fine in small vessels but inadequate when the numbers exceeded the total capacity of lifeboats available.

Major shipwrecks were rare but not uncommon. Most ship owners believed the risk was minimal. They also believed passengers carried the risk as well. It was always a possibility, however remote, that something would go wrong resulting in injury or death. Strict liability laws made it difficult (but not impossible) to obtain judgments against them. Many became complacent about the danger of a major catastrophe. They believed in all the wondrous new technologies that made ships stronger and safer. A ship might be wounded, scraped, and battered but would remain afloat. Titanic was designed with that in mind.

Even with lifeboats, it required a trained crew to work them. And on Titanic, that was a problem. Too few were experienced in this task. Smith never had a boat drill. Boat assignments were posted after leaving Queenstown. Manning was inconsistent. Lifeboat 6 was assigned two while Lifeboat 3 had 15. Worse neither he or the senior officers had any idea how many people each lifeboat would carry. They did not know they had been throughly tested by Harland & Wolff to carry 65 persons without any sign of strain. Harland & Wolff never mentioned it, according to Walter Lord, because they assumed Smith and his officers knew this “as a matter of general knowledge.”

Captain Smith was experienced officer. He was widely respected amongst his peers and passengers who sailed on his ships. Yet like many others he was complacent. Until he commanded Olympic, he never had any major problems at sea. However the incident in New York with a tug and the Olympic’s collision with the Royal Navy cruiser Hawke were warnings about how differently these new large ships operated. And suction from the propellers caused the liner New York to break moorings in Southampton. Independently these events proved nothing but together form a pattern. All of them occurred while he was in command.

So his lack of action on lifeboat organization is not the work of a lazy or incompetent ship master. It is of someone who believed they would never be needed except in very rare circumstances. Unlike the depiction in A Night To Remember, Smith was not decisive and barking out orders when the crisis hit. Instead he had to be asked by his officers about lowering lifeboats and other orders like firing distress rockets. Which is why things were confusing on that night. Passengers did not know where to go and had to wait for instructions on deck. Lightoller and Murdoch operated inconsistent policies in their respective lifeboat operations. Lightoller was strict about women and children first while Murdoch allowed men on lifeboats. Smith was likely in shock about Titanic sinking and the terrible loss of life about to happen.

It was not long after Titanic’s sinking that every passenger liner put lifeboats for all and pronounced it in advertisements. No longer was it an issue of money but one of safety. The shocking numbers of those saved to those lost were the new mathematics. And ship owners complied and later maritime laws would make it mandatory along with boat drills for crew. Today most cruise passengers have to practice putting on life jackets and assemble at designated points not long after sailing. While no one crashes into icebergs these days, very rough seas can tumble ships as recent stories indicate. Complacency was certainly major element to the Titanic disaster, which is why one must never become too comfortable for the unexpected happens more often than we like to admit.

Destination Titanic: Big Ship, New Problems

On this date in 1912, Titanic departed Southampton on her maiden voyage. As she was leaving, suction from Titanic’s propellers caused a nearby ship, the New York, to loose its moorings. Quick action by a tug and extra speed from Titanic averted a collision. This incident confirmed a theory put forth by the British Navy in legal action against White Star about such suctions. Ironically the captain of the ship involved was Edward J. Smith.
In 1911 the Olympic had two such incidents. The first, according to Walter Lord, occurred on 11 June as Olympic was docking. The tug O.L. Hollenbeck was near the stern when a sudden burst from Olympic’s starboard sucked it against the ship. Hollenbeck’s stern frame, rudder, and wheel shaft was cut off. The press played down the incident but the tug owner sued White Star for $10,000. White Star countersued but the legal action was dismissed for lack of evidence. Lord writes: “No one saw the incident for what it really was: a disturbing lesson in the difficulty of managing a steamer of the Olympic’s unprecedented size.”

A few months later a more ominous event occurred. Olympic and the Royal Navy cruiser Hawke collided in the Spithead, a body of water near Isle of Wight. Hawke was running parallel to Titanic, several times her size, and both ships were at 15 knots. Suddenly Hawke veered to port and headed straight for Olympic’s starboard quarter. The cruiser rammed the liner’s hull and fortunately no one was killed. Hawke’s bow was badly crumpled. Olympic had a double gash in the stern and two compartments flooded. Olympic’s passengers were taken off by tender and the ship limped back to port in Southampton and then to Belfast for repairs.

Everyone thought Hawke was at fault. After all, it had suddenly rammed Olympic. Interviews in the press praised Captain Smith and laid blame on the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy (RN) was not amused and sued for damages. Here is where it gets interesting. Normally the argument is over who had the right of way. Instead the RN argued that suction from Olympic’s propellers had drawn Hawke in. Using models to show how displaced water works, they argued Hawke was the victim and not the aggressor. The court ruled in their favor to the displeasure of many maritime experts. The use of models was dismissed along with the theories used. The ruling stood and White Star had to pay damages.

The findings were dismissed by many since it relied on models. White Star must have agreed since it kept Smith on and made him captain of Titanic. The incident with New York, which matched what happened with Hawke, suddenly made the theory of hydrodynamic forces acceptable. The theory was that a ship moving forward displaces water on either side of the hull. This displaced water then surges back to the stern and into the vessels wake. Any small object that is afloat nearby will be sucked in. The pull increases with the size of the ship, its speed, and proximity. Olympic was a 45,000 ton ship and much too close to Hawke (200 feet) considering her speed against the 7.500 ton Hawke.

Smith likely did not realize this. His experience was on smaller vessels for his entire maritime career. Ships like Olympic and Titanic were totally new to him and everyone else. After the incident with New York, Lord notes Captain Smith did something odd. After leaving Cherbourg, he ordered practice turns for the ship. He apparently realized he needed to find out more about Titanic. Sadly, of course, Smith perished when Titanic went down on 15 April.

Titanic Irony: Thieves Break-In To Lifeboat Station After Crew Raises Money At Titanic Musical

Truth is stranger than fiction. And here is example of it. The BBC reports that after a fundraiser at a Titanic musical, the very lifeboat station involved was broken into. The crew of the RNLI Kessock found that the store cupboard had been broken into but neither the boathouse or lifeboat inside were touched.

Kessock helmsman Stan McRae said: “To think that someone would try to break into a Lifeboat station makes you feel just gutted, especially given how the RNLI is funded with voluntary donations from the public.”

So far no one has been arrested for the crime.

(BBC, RNLI Site Break-In After Titanic – The Musical Effort, 26 Mar 2010)

Titanic Cliche of Day: British Conservative Leader Likens Labour Leadership To Titanic

Things are heating up in Britain these days as Labour decides to go after the upper class with new taxes. This prompted Conservative leader David Cameron to compare Labour leadership to Titanic’s captain.

Cameron said: “It’s like the captain of the Titanic saying “Let me command the lifeboats.”

(Chiltern Debt Management-blog, 24 Mar 2010)